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Growing into yourself

In elementary school, a lot of kids had end-of-the-school-year traditions. Some would have pool parties, take day trips to the beach or celebrate good grades by going to their favorite ice cream places. My end-of-year tradition was staying up far past my bedtime and sobbing to my mother about how I was scared of growing up.

My mother, a wonderfully blunt woman, would hold me tight in her arms, remind me I did this every year and tell me, "growing up is better than the alternative."

A tough pill to swallow when you're six.

Around 11, I outgrew my growing-up breakdowns, but that Peter Pan-like fear always held fast in the back of my mind.

When I thought about growing up, I thought about leaving my parents' home, taking on responsibilities, and -- I'll be honest -- getting old and dying. Ultimately, growing up meant changes I didn't want and couldn't predict.

I was a nervous kid.

I've been thinking about this fear of mine a lot lately, as college is like the lightning round of growing up. People always talk about how college is odd because you're constantly living life in different parts. You are periodically switching between your new and old lives, and if you're like me, the distance in mileage from one to the other allows for little interaction in between. This can lead to a sense of instability that is, at times, overwhelming.

The combined inconsistency and business of college life tends to draw attention away from the personal growth that happens along the way. Sometimes you have to stop and think about where you were and where you are to notice the changes. When I look at who I am today versus who I was this time just last year, it's like looking at two different people.

Well, maybe not two different people. It's like looking at a "Spot the Difference" page in Highlights magazine.

My morning coffee order has shifted from iced half milk, half coffee with three sugars to hot, black with two sugars. I no longer send my mom all of my emails so she can edit them. I traveled to the West Coast for the first time. I went on a date! I'm not afraid to dance in front of strangers! I embrace having curly hair rather than resent it! I don't edit my personality to fit what I think others want, but rather act true to myself! I like onion rings!

Some of those probably seem trivial, but to me, they're big changes -- labels, traits and identities I've assigned to myself for years no longer apply. It's not bad, just different.

I watch my friends near and far go through the same realizations I do -- that, while they weren't paying attention, they grew up. I have had countless conversations where a friend is dumbfounded about how they handled a situation differently than they would have in the past, or liked a new food or opted for a quiet night in rather than a wild night out.

"Yeah," I tell them, "it's called growing up, and it's a good thing."

I say this not only for them to hear, but because I need to be reminded of it, too.

I know I still have a lot of growing up to do, and there are certain things about me I don't think I will ever grow out of. Like my fear of the dark or belief in magic (that's a column for another day). Growing up still scares me, but I'm starting to learn that it has its benefits, like getting to know yourself a little better.

Besides, like my mother would say, it's better than the alternative.